The Kodak City goes to War: Rochester’s Aerial Photography School

Aerial photography can be traced back to 1858 when a French photographer named Gaspard-Felix Tournachon captured an image of Paris while riding in a  hot-air balloon. The field developed further in the late 19th century  with the use of kites.

But aerial photography as we know it today, really progressed during World War I, thanks in part to the Eastman Kodak Company.

Both the Allied and Central Powers were engaging in aerial image capturing before the United States entered the war in 1917, but the Rochester-based firm nevertheless contributed to both the development of, and instruction in, the new techonology.

Kodak not only created the Kodak A-2 aerial camera which was widely used during the war, but it also instigated the establishment of the U.S. Aerial Photography School in Rochester.

In early 1918, the company offered the federal government two acres of floor space of its new building at Kodak Park to serve as the school’s barracks, dark rooms, class rooms and lecture halls.

The local YMCA and Knights of Columbus organizations jointly proposed to construct a recreation hall by the campus outfitted with a library, a billiards room and a “Liberty Theatre,” to meet the entertainment needs of the young recruits.

Mayor Edgerton in turn offered up the section of Genesee Valley Park known as Baker Field to house an airplane hangar.

The hangar would not host a flying school, nor would the airplanes’ camera operators be the ones attending the Kodak Park institution.

Aerial camera operators did not actually have a hand in developing and printing photographs. This work, done by “ground men,” was to be the focus of the Kodak Park school.

aerial-school-class-photo

Announcing the establishment of the new institution in early 1918, the U.S. Signal Corps sent a bulletin to local draft boards indicating, “The camera is playing a very important part in the war of 1917, and the Signal Corps is organizing the largest and most up-to-date photographic division in the world. The corps is calling on amateurs and professionals to aid the reconnaissance and to help write the story of the war in pictures.”

The school’s Commandant, Captain Charles Betz, proclaimed: “This is an admirable opportunity for men with photographic experience to turn in and do their part. Rochester, the Kodak City, should do its share, and I am certain it will give us two hundred students.”

A considerable number of Rochesterians were among the thousands of amateur and professional photographers who applied to the school.

The first recruits arrived to the Kodak Park campus in March, 1918 and were given instruction in military drill and trained in the school of the soldier well before they were schooled in aerial photography.

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Inspection at Kodak Park

Students then underwent a highly intensive 4-week course specializing in photo developing and printing as well as camera repair. Recruits learned how to develop film under time constraints and in varying climates and conditions in order to prepare them for the challenges of working with film in special vehicles close to enemy lines.

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Aerial Photo of Highland Park by Private Prongay

Armistice was announced just eight months after the Kodak school opened. When demobilization of the Aerial School began in December 1918, it was the last military unit left in the city.

Though the institution was short-lived, its impact on the war effort was nevertheless significant. By the time it officially closed on January 1st, 1919, the Kodak school was responsible for having trained more than 2,500 people in the art of aerial photography.

 

-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Haunting at Haag House

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The serene appearance of this elegant Scio Street property belies the building’s more mysterious and sinister past.

The Second Empire-style house was originally the family residence of Bernard Haag, who moved to Rochester from his native Bavaria in 1849 at the age of eighteen. A skilled butcher, Haag found work in his trade around town before he opened his own meat market on the corner of Scio and East Main Streets in the 1850s.

He later built this neighboring three-story house on Scio Street.

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This 1888 Plat Map shows Haag’s house and neighboring retail property

Therein, the affable Haag hosted myriad events. His daughter Louisa held her wedding at the home in 1881. In 1907, Haag’s grand-daughters Emilie and Gertrude made their debut at a lavish party attended by 70 people hailing from all over the country. The house also witnessed several of Bernard’s birthday celebrations, which became an annual tradition for several years until his death in 1919.

Bernard’s sons Benjamin and George had taken over their father’s market several years before. Benjamin in particular excelled at his father’s trade, becoming president of the Rochester Retail Butchers Mutual Protective Association in 1896 as well as the president of the Rochester Hide, Skin and Fat Melting Association in 1900.

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A circa 1910 image of the Haag property.

The brothers maintained the family business until 1912, after which the store went through several owners. In 1924, entrepreneur Ranford Wilson purchased the entire Haag property including the retail space and the Scio Street house. The following year, he constructed a storefront around the Victorian house and placed a yellow brick façade over the original red brick market building.

Building storefronts in front of homes was a common occurrence in the 1920s in burgeoning business districts such as Main Street and Lyell Ave, as it allowed retail developers to avoid having to tear down historic houses.

Ranford Wilson renamed his revamped property the Wilshire building.  An array of businesses and shops greeted passersby at ground level, while the upper floors contained apartments. The former Haag family residence served as the Wilshire’s offices.

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This 1935 Plat Map evinces the post-1925 metamorphosis of the  Haag property.

The Victorian home’s façade wouldn’t be seen again for another 60 years. In 1987, a local developer purchased the Haag property with an eye to repurpose the building into an upscale restaurant and office space.

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The former Haag property just prior to its uncovering in 1987.

But as renovators uncovered the hidden house, they also unearthed something truly unsettling.

One worker shoveling debris from the ceiling  received the shock of his life when he spotted a leg bone with a foot attached. The bone had fallen from the space between the first floor ceiling and second floor’s floor. When the second floor was torn up, three other bones, presumably from arms and legs, were  discovered. By the time investigators concluded their search of the building, about 25 bones of varying sizes-including an entire lower leg with mummified skin and toenails- had been uncovered at the scene.

The forensic scientists assigned to the case in 1988 drew several conclusions after subjecting the evidence to a barrage of tests. They determined that the bones had come from three different individuals, a man over 50 and two women in their 40s. They hypothesized that the victims had been murdered as long as 100 years before and that considering how well the body parts had been preserved, the bones must have been hidden during winter time and “freeze-dried.” The bones appeared to have been professionally cut by a meat saw, like the kind found in a butcher shop. And perhaps most disturbingly, the scientists  indicated that the victims may have been dismembered prior to their death.

Though the forensic experts were able to uncover a wealth of information from the gruesome evidence, three major questions remained unanswered: Who were the murder victims? Who had killed them? And how?

Investigators at the time noted that the case would remain open despite its age, but that without additional evidence, they might never be able to unravel the 100 year old mystery.

Happy Halloween!

 

-Emily Morry

Published in: on October 31, 2016 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  

It was 60 Years Ago Today: Rochester Reacts to the Hungarian Revolution

 

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. The 13-day uprising was sparked by students in Budapest, who protested the repressiveness of Hungary’s Soviet-controlled government and the ongoing presence of Soviet troops, who had occupied the country since the end of World War II.

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Stalin’s statue, pulled to the ground by Hungarian freedom fighters

The revolt drew support from Americans, who lauded the Hungarians’ attempts to overthrow their Communist oppressors. Part of the Eisenhower administration’s Cold War policy had been to encourage European inhabitants of the satellite states to take up arms to break away from the Eastern bloc. But much to the disappointment of many Hungarians, whose resources and manpower were dwarfed by those of the Soviets, the United States did not reinforce this policy with military assistance and the Revolution was quelled on November 10th, 1956.

Americans across the country, including those residing in Rochester, nevertheless provided other forms of support to Hungarians who had escaped the country and as well as those remaining in Eastern Europe.

Local chapters of major organizations such as the American Red Cross as well as religious groups such as the Catholic Family Center, took the lead in organizing fundraising efforts and clothing drives.

Rochesterians of Hungarian descent, such as the members of the Hungarian-American Club, also readily took actions to assist their brethren. One local chef who had fled Hungary in 1949, planned a special all-Hungarian menu at his Dewey Avenue restaurant in order to raise money for the cause.

“I felt, how shall I say it, personally involved in the fighting,” Continental Restaurant proprietor Oscar Szanta informed the Democrat & Chronicle, “You see, I know Budapest so well. Every picture run in the newspapers, every scene shown on television—I know the streets, I recognize the buildings.”

But even Flower City residents with no ties overseas were moved by the Hungarians’ struggle.

When waiters and waitresses at Eddie’s Chop House decided to give their Christmas bonus that year for refugee relief, the restaurant’s proprietors matched their employees’ total. Elementary students at School 29 opted to donate the money that was going to be used for their annual Christmas party to the Hungarian Relief fund.Edwards’ department store offered to give  5 dollars of every appliance purchase over 30 dollars to the cause. Sibley’s launched a drive for warm clothing and blankets. Hickey-Freeman pledged jobs to any Hungarian refugees that ended up in Rochester.

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“Help!” reads this poster for Sibley’s clothing drive, designed by Hungarian refugee, Joseph Bors.

About 250 of the 200,000 Hungarians who fled the country in the wake of the Revolution made their home here.

After arriving in Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, refugees traveled by train to Rochester, where they received room and board at the Manger Hotel until they could be placed with a sponsor family.

The majority of the refugees were young men, most of whom were eager to find employment so they could start their new lives in the West: “I wish to make my way, to be dependent upon no one, to pay myself,” one émigré explained.

Many Hungarians were taken by the generosity of Rochester residents, who had offered up homes, clothing and jobs to the newcomers. Mrs. Alfred Nunzy, a 22-year-old woman who had carried her 2-year-old son 15 miles to the Austrian border before relocating to America, exclaimed: “I never believed that there could be so much brotherly love, that people could be so wonderful.”

Sandor Pikacs, the first Hungarian refugee to arrive in Rochester in 1956, expressed what many of his exiled countrymen were feeling when he informed a local reporter, “I feel so thankful to be in America. I have to pinch myself to be sure that all this is real. I would like to take off my hat and thank everybody I meet on the streets for letting me come here.”

 

-Emily Morry

Published in: on October 21, 2016 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Recording Rochester’s Hispanic heritage: the Latino Oral History collection

 

Since 1988, the United States has recognized September 15-October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. Beginning on the anniversary of the date that several Latin American countries achieved independence, the honorary month celebrates Hispanic history and culture while recognizing the contributions of Latino communities across the country.

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Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at City Hall, 2006

Rochester’s Hispanic community, which now counts almost 38,000 people, dates back to the late 1800s, though Latino immigration to the area really began in earnest in the mid-twentieth century. Puerto Rican emigres were the first Latinos to establish local roots, followed by other national groups including Dominicans, Cubans and Mexicans.

Forming communities in the Upper Falls, Brown Square and Marketview Heights neighborhoods, these migrants helped shape local culture and politics through their customs and culinary traditions as well as their art and activism.

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Borinquena (Puerto Rican) dancers at Manhattan Square Park

The Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library recently partnered with professors and students from Nazareth College on a project designed to shed light on the history of this community.

Dr. Isabel Cordova and Dr. Hilda Chacon of Nazareth College spearheaded an oral history project in 2011,by having students record interviews with local residents of Hispanic descent as a class assignment. Staff and interns from the Local History Division then compiled the collection of interviews and included them as part of the Rochester Public Library’s Rochester Voices website.

 

Emblematic of local demographic trends, the majority of the participants in the Latino Oral History collection have Puerto Rican backgrounds, but Rochester area residents with roots in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Colombia and Mexico are also represented.

Participants’ stories cover a substantial time span—ranging from those who witnessed the local Puerto Rican community’s formation in the 1950s to those who relocated to Rochester in recent years.

Their life experiences also highlight a host of different topics and themes relevant to the Latino community,including immigration struggles, educational challenges, community activism, racial tensions, the role of religion and the importance of music and cultural traditions. A considerable number of interviewees also touch on questions of identity and what it means to be both Latino and American.

Collectively, the stories comprising the Latino Oral History collection highlight the diverse and multifaceted history of Rochester’s vibrant Hispanic community.

This invaluable resource is one of several collections hosted on Rochester Voices. The educational website, designed to engage both students and the general public, will have its official launch party on October 1st from 2-4pm in the Local History Division of the Rundel Library.

For a sneak preview, readers can access the Latino Oral History collection and the Rochester Voices website via this link:

http://rochestervoices.org/content/collections/latino-oral-histories/

Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Bambino at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1921”

Exactly 95 years ago this month, local baseball fans were treated to an appearance by the legendary “Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth.

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Ruth and teammates in the dug out of the Bay Street ball yard.

The former Red Sox outfielder had been traded to the New York Yankees the previous year and was already proving well worth his $125,000 purchase price. On July 5th, 1921 just two days before his visit to Rochester, Ruth scored his 31st home run of the season.

This achievement only further mounted anticipation among locals for the impending Yankees’ exhibition game versus the International League’s Rochester Club on July 7th.

“No exhibition game arranged for Rochester in years- if ever before-has attracted the attention and aroused the enthusiasm of the one with the New York club, for everybody wants to get a glimpse of “Babe” Ruth,” the Democrat & Chronicle noted.

Fans not only wanted to see Ruth, they wanted to witness one of his patented homers. The Rochester Club’s manager, George Stallings, made it clear, however, that the Rochester Club would in no way assist the Yankee achieve this feat.

He informed reporters, “I shall instruct my pitchers to pitch to Ruth as hard as to any other batsman. Then, if he does drive one over the fence, the fans may be sure that it is something more than an empty honor…The fans want to see him hit. Nevertheless my pitchers will not aid or abet him in any way to adding to the home runs he has made. If the ‘Babe’ makes a home run it will be in spite of, rather than because of the pitching he gets.”

Nearly 6,000 eager sports fans descended upon the Bay Street ball yard for the exhibition game on July 7th, 1921. Requests for advance tickets had poured in from every town and city in Western New York.

Although excitement surrounding the match-up had reached fever pitch by the one o’clock start time, the game itself proved fairly mundane.

The Democrat & Chronicle reported: “The hot, sultry air did not serve to enliven the proceedings of the game, but as a whole, the fray was a cleanly played affair. There was no sensational work on either side, and those fans who came out to the ball yard were distinctly disappointed if they thought they would see some flashy playing by the teams.”

Babe Ruth’s contribution was no exception. The famed baller only cracked one hit—a single—during his four trips to the plate.

The Great Bambino’s less than great performance garnered some cutting criticism from the Rochester club’s fan base. Reporters on the scene noted that “the crowd apparently went out to the Bay street yard to razz him, for the “Babe” came in for some especially hard calls from the fans.”

And although many fans had hoped to see a Babe Ruth home run, there was in fact much joy in Rochester(ville) when the mighty Bambino struck out.

ruth-strike out

The Rochester club ultimately defeated Ruth and the New York Yankees, 4-2.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on July 26, 2016 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

If it Ain’t Dutch it Ain’t Much: Rochester’s Holland-American Club

 

merchants wood fired pizza

A familiar site in the Culver-Merchants neighborhood, the building now housing Merchants Wood-Fired Pizza and Bistro was originally the home of the Holland-American Club.

The organization initially formed in 1921 as a theatrical group seeking to stage plays in the Dutch language. The club held its first performance that November at the Turn-Halle on Clinton Avenue. The program included a three act play called Jan Ongeluk (John the Unlucky) and a klompendans (wooden shoe dance) performed by three young women.

A reporter from the D&C remarked that the dance “was striking. Eccentric and individual, it had a certain grace and rhythm which won instant appreciation.”

A membership drive following the show sought to enlist as many Hollanders into the organization as possible with the hope of one day building of a proper clubhouse where Dutch culture and social affairs could be celebrated.

Though the membership drive was swift and successful, construction on the club’s headquarters  was not as prompt.

For several years, the club ended up hosting its outings and Dutch-language performances at other area venues such as the Labor Lyceum on Clinton Avenue and the Ukrainian Civic Center Auditorium on Joseph Avenue.

Many of these shows and outings were fundraising ventures for the much desired clubhouse. Construction on the edifice finally began in 1947. When the stucco structure at 564 Merchants Road opened its doors four years later, Rochester ‘s Holland-American Club was the only chapter in the country to have its own permanent building.

Since new immigration had stalled during the 1930s and most of the city’s Dutch immigrants had been Americanized by the time the clubhouse opened, the group largely functioned as a social organization in its latter years.

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Club members, 1954

President William Wyngarde explained, “It’s a club for friendship and enjoyment. Its members come from every province of the Netherlands. Politics or religion are no part of the club in any way.”

The group’s affability extended to accepting fellow European emigres into their clubhouse.

In 1954, the venue hosted the Hungarian –American Club’s centenary celebration of Hungary’s independence. Two years later, when Rochester received a number of Hungarian refugees following the country’s revolution, the Holland-American Club once again welcomed their European brethren with open arms, hosting festivities and fundraisers for the exiles.

Tragedy struck the convivial clubhouse the following decade when a fire sparked by a cigarette butt engulfed the building’s interior and tore through the roof before firefighters managed to bring it under control.

In 1964, two years after the conflagration, the club expressed interest in converting their headquarters into a restaurant and cocktail lounge, but the plan did not come to fruition. The organization left the building in 1966 and entered a somewhat dormant period. A newly reformed Holland-American Club arose in the 1990s, during which the Dutch Market on Park Avenue played host to club meetings and events .

Meanwhile, the group’s former clubhouse on the corner of Merchants Road and Wyand Crescent  underwent a series of vastly different incarnations, housing Local 210 of the National Association of Letter Carriers for over two decades, then serving as the home of an Ahmadi Muslim mosque before being repurposed as an Italian restaurant in 2008.

-Emily Morry

 

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Speakeasies and Snake Dancers: Timultuous times at Bardo’s Inn

elmgrove and lyell

You wouldn’t know by looking at it today, but the northeast corner of Lyell and Elmgrove Road in Gates was once home to one of the area’s liveliest–if somewhat notorious–entertainment venues.

Longtime residents of the neighborhood likely associate the intersection with the since demolished Elmgrove Inn, but the building’s original incarnation was a unique establishment called Bardo’s Inn.

Opened in the 1920s by August J. “Gus” Bardo, the venue was alternately advertised as an inn, a restaurant, and a supper club, but its interior activities belied these billings.

The club was the subject of several raids during the Prohibition Era. One such raid in May, 1928 made the front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, which informed readers that authorities had seized gin, wine and whiskey from the property. Bardo suffered a temporary injunction, and reopened only to be subjected to another bust a few years later.

A 1933 raid uncovered that Bardo was peddling not only gin, but gambling as well. State troopers seized a slot machine on the site and emptied its contents into the Gates welfare fund.

Bardo sought other forms of entertainment for his patrons in the years following Prohibition’s repeal.

He advertised in regional African-American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Age, offering auditions to a range of “first-class entertainers” including “blues singers, flat foots, snake, hip or hula dancers,” promising them room and board for year-round work.

Bardo hired black entertainers for exclusively white audiences, borrowing a business model popularized by the Cotton Club in New York City (though the Cotton Club changed this policy in 1932).

The club owner would eventually entrust artist recruitment to Maxie Maxwell, a dancer and singer from New York City who would go on to become the emcee and producer of all Bardo’s Inn performances.

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Maxie Maxwell at bottom left

Maxwell, pictured above, featured a variety of entertainers in his shows, including Sweetie Pie, who performed a novelty number while dancing on her toes, Spoons Brown, who made music with wooden utensils, and Chiquita, a “shake artist.”

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Though the Inn’s performances proved popular, relations between performers were not always cordial. In April 1938, a heated dispute sparked by “professional jealousy” arose between dancer Helen Bookman and Doris Reeves, known at Bardo’s for her snake dance routine.

The D&C reported that Reeves had suffered bites and lacerations “when Miss Bookman employed both teeth and a roadhouse kitchen meat cleaver in the course of the fracas.” Bookman was arrested following the altercation and “wore her floor show finery to jail.”

The show at Bardo’s carried on that night minus two of its principals, and the venue itself carried on till 1945, four years after Gus Bardo’s passing.

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A Bavarian-style supper club called the Alpine Inn temporarily occupied the building before the Elmgrove Inn established itself on the site in 1949.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on June 21, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

American Ancestors offers free access to New York records throughout June

NEHGS

Although we love to see you in the Local History & Genealogy Division, we thought you might like to know that for the month of June you can access American Ancestor’s New York records from home for free. See the press release below for details.

Remember, American Ancestors and Ancestry are always free in the Local History & Genealogy Division, along with many other family history resources.

June 2, 2016—Boston, Massachusetts—Frequently there’s a New York wall in the way of family historians conducting research that includes ancestors in the Empire State. Today the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has announced a special feature to help genealogists break through it with FREE Access to all of its New York databases at AmericanAncestors.org/New-York.

New York genealogy can be a challenge, depending on the time, place, and ethnicity of one’s ancestors. For example, finding 18th century Dutch-descended New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley is easier than finding settlers from New England in the same locale. The 1911 fire at the State Library in Albany and the fact that statewide registration of vital records did not start until 1880 can create challenging brick walls for research that includes the Empire State.

The unique New York databases on AmericanAncestors.org—the data-rich website of NEHGS—offer thousands of early American records for finding lost New York ancestors. 23 databases including church records, property records, marriage notices, and cemetery inscriptions are all within the online collection of the New York resources of NEHGS. The experts at NEHGS know the best resources for New York genealogy and can teach you to use them effectively.

Of particular interest to family historians seeking New York data are two databases offered FREE during this special, month-long program of NEHGS:

  • Abstracts of Wills, Admins., and Guardianships in NY State, 1787-1835This database contains transcriptions for more than 50 counties within the state of New York. This compilation of Abstracts of New York Wills, Administrations, and Guardianships was created by William Applebie Daniel Eardeley. The original materials are part of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s manuscript collection. Eardeley abstracted original estate proceedings in the counties of New York. In addition he indexed all the names in his abstracts, i.e. those of the decedents, executors, administrators, petitioners, guardians, witnesses, named beneficiaries, and minor children. Although the original title of the collection refers to the years 1691 to 1860, the bulk of the material concerns the period 1787 to 1835.
  • New York: Albany County Deeds, 1630-1894
    The Index to the public records of the County of Albany, State of New York, 1630-1894 was compiled and printed  pursuant to the laws of 1893, under direction of Wheeler B. Melius, Superintendent [1893-1906] of the Albany County (N.Y.) Board of Supervisors. This important fourteen volume set of 302,300 land transactions in Albany County, searchable by grantor, grantee, corporation and date of transaction represents some of the only surviving early records of Albany, NY after a devastating fire on February 10, 1880 at Albany City Hall destroyed or severely damaged many records for the city and county. The database is complete with records from all volumes, 1-14.

Throughout the month of June, these and all other New York databases on the website of NEHGS are FREE to Guest Users. Users who register for FREE access may browse a wide variety of New York records, subject guides, articles, and publications and view other resources at AmericanAncestors.org/New-York. Unlimited access to all one billion plus records on AmericanAncestors.org and other benefits are through membership at NEHGS.

About American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society

The founding genealogical society in America, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was established in 1845. Today it has a national collecting scope and serves more than 150,000 constituents through an award-winning website, www.AmericanAncestors.org. Since 1845, NEHGS has been the country’s leading comprehensive resource for genealogists and family historians of every skill level. Today NEHGS provides constituents with worldwide access to some of the most important and valuable research tools anywhere.

American Ancestors is the public brand and user experience of NEHGS representing the expertise and resources available for family historians of all levels when researching their origins across the country and around the world. NEHGS’s resources, expertise, and service are unmatched in the field and their leading staff of on-site and online genealogists includes experts in early American, Irish, English, Scottish, Italian, Atlantic and French Canadian, African American, Native American, Chinese, and Jewish research. Expert assistance is available to members and nonmembers in a variety of ways. The NEHGS library and archive, located at 99-101 Newbury Street in downtown Boston, Massachusetts is home to more than 28 million items, including manuscript documents, genealogical records, books, photographs, and other items dating back hundreds of years.

Published in: on June 7, 2016 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Silent Alarm: Rochester’s Rare Ringer

If you’ve ever found yourself walking by the stylish Art Deco building on Andrews Street that now houses the Municipal Archives, you may have noticed the large red apparatus sitting atop its roof.  And you may ask yourself, what is that beautiful machine? And you may ask yourself, how did it get there?

ChryslerAirRaidSiren

As it happens, the beautiful machine in question is a holdover from the Cold War Era that has graced the roof of 414 Andrews Street since 1955.

Air raid sirens formed an integral part of Civil Defense planning in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Rochester witnessed its share of alarm systems as officials deemed the city a potential Communist target due to its manufacturing and defense industries.

In June 1952, New York State’s Civil Defense Director Clarence Heubner warned local residents, “Rochester is only 9 1/2 hours flying distance from Russia. The only thing that’s needed to launch one of those planes is word from Joe Stalin.”

That decade, several sirens of varying sizes and sonic strengths were tested at strategic points around the city, such as Cobbs Hill and what was then the Fire Bureau Headquarters at 315 Cumberland Street (now 414 Andrews Street).

Many of these sirens proved insufficient in some way or another—either their output was obfuscated by certain buildings or they failed to be heard inside individual homes, essentially negating their function as a warning system.

In October 1955, Monroe County Civil Defense Director Robert Abbott proclaimed that the city would be testing the “world’s largest air siren.” Abbott boasted that the alarm in question, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren, “will produce the loudest noise ever devised by man for a sustained output by mechanical means.”

The test of the 138dB siren, launched on November 8th proved successful, if unenjoyable to some ears.

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Message transmitted to these receivers at School 11.

Coincidentally, the County purchased two of the Chrysler sirens not long before the local Office of Civil Defense began to phase out air raid testing. And while “duck and cover” exercises experienced a revival during the Cuban Missile Crisis era, interest in and funding for Civil Defense started to wane by the late 1960s.

The following decade, the unit, now refocused on disaster relief, was rebranded the Monroe County Office of Emergency Preparedness and the region’s 584 fallout shelters were emptied.

And just as the countless faded fallout shelter signs donning buildings across America serve as a reminder of life during Cold Wartime, so too does the small collection of silent sirens still perched atop formerly strategic structures.

Though the majority of air raid sirens were either scrapped or sold to museums and collectors, some were left in place, often because the cost of their removal proved greater than their scrap value.

The big red ringer on Andrews Street is one of only a dozen or so Chrysler Air Raid Sirens in the United States that has remained in its original location same as it ever was, making the Cold War relic a unique local artifact.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 31, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

Flag of our Founders: The Curious Case of Rochester’s City Flag

A few months ago, a couple of eager patrons came to the Local History division seeking information about Rochester’s flag—not the blue flag emblazoned with the ubiquitous flour city/flower city logo, they specified–but the official city flag of Rochester. I was familiar with the flag in question though I’d only ever seen a postcard of it and had never come across one in person.

Sharing my patrons’ curiosity about the history and current whereabouts of this mysterious pennant, I later did a little digging of my own…

The idea of an official city flag was first proposed in 1910 when Rochester was trying to establish itself as a major convention center.

Unveiled in September of that year, the blue white and gold flag designed by David E. Spear Jr. showcased the 400-year old Rochester family Coat of Arms, which featured a crane above three crescents (associated in heraldry with fertility and prosperity).

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1910 Postcard of the City Flag

The flag’s colours also bore symbolic significance. As Mayor Hiram Edgerton noted: “the blue represents our exceptional water and electric power; the white, the cleanliness of our city; the gold, our financial strength and industrial prosperity.”

The design met with criticism almost immediately. An attendee of the unveiling who was well versed in heraldry observed that the color order did not conform to heraldic laws. He also raised questions about the practicality of including an official coat of arms on a municipal flag.

“Is this flag to become popular?” he inquired, “If so, is not the Rochester arms rather complicated, making the price beyond the reach of citizens generally? Why not eliminate them on common or bunting flags for general use?”

This consideration may have influenced the City’s hesitancy in adopting the design as the official Rochester flag. Though first unveiled in 1910, the flag was not formally recognized until 1934, upon prompting from members of the Rochester Historical Society.

But even this official designation seemingly did not lead to the flag’s widespread use. By the late 1950s, only 4 local sites displayed the flag and no one at City Hall had any knowledge of the flag’s history. Nor were they able to settle the ongoing debate among Rochester’s citizens as to whether the bird featured on the flag was a chicken or a duck. (It was neither).

When the blue flag featuring the Flour City/Flower City seal was revealed in 1979, Rochester’s official flag receded further from public view and public memory.

A 2004 Democrat & Chronicle article discussing the flag’s poor rating from the North American Vexillological Association listed just two places where it was still on display: City Hall and the Local History division of the Central Library.

This news came as a surprise to me since I’ve been working in that very area of the library in one capacity or another for a few years and have never seen nor heard anyone mention the flag in question. After my searches through the division’s special collections proved unfruitful, I asked City Historian Christine Ridarsky if she knew anything about the flag’s whereabouts.

To my delight, she unearthed the requested item from the storage closet of the Office of the City Historian (which happens to be located in the Local History division). Neither Christine nor the Local History division’s previous manager had any clue as to how the flag ended up there, but it became clear why it was no longer on display when I unfurled it.

Torn and frayed in one corner and blemished in spots, the discolored flag has clearly seen better days.

Cityflag-current

Tattered though it may be, the banner is likely one of the few official city flags still in existence and serves as a lesser known piece of  Rochester’s past.

-Emily Morry

 

 

 

Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)